Sri Lankan war crimes video is authentic, Times investigation finds

The Times December 15, 2009
Video footage that appears to show Sri Lankan troops committing war crimes by summarily executing captured Tamil Tiger fighters on the battlefield was not fabricated, as claimed by the Sri Lankan Government, an investigation by The Times has found.The findings come after General Sarath Fonseka, the former head of the army, alleged that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Minister, had ordered that surrendering Tiger leaders be killed rather than taken prisoner in the final days of the brutal 26-year civil war that ended in May.

The claims, vehemently denied by the Government, added to a lengthy list of war crimes allegations against it.

The video of the alleged battlefield executions, which was aired on Channel 4 in August, shows a naked man, bound and blindfolded, being made to kneel.

Another man, dressed in what appears to be Sri Lankan army uniform, approaches from behind and shoots him in the head at point-blank range. “It’s like he jumped,” the executor laughs. The camera then pans to show eight similarly bound corpses.

It is impossible to confirm when and where the filming occurred or the identities of the men shown. Pro-Tamil groups alleged that the video was filmed by troops on a mobile phone in January, when they overran the Tiger stronghold of Kilinochchi in the north of the country. Those claims were denied by government officials, who said they had “established beyond doubt” that the footage was fake.

An analysis for The Times by Grant Fredericks, an independent forensic video specialist who is also an instructor at the FBI National Academy, suggests otherwise. He found no evidence of digital manipulation, editing or any other special effects. However, subtle details consistent with a real shooting, such as a discharge of gas from the barrel of the weapon used, were visible.

“This level of subtle detail cannot be virtually reproduced. This is clearly an original recording,” said Mr Fredericks, who was previously the head of the Vancouver police forensic video unit in Canada.

There was also strong evidence to rule out the use of actors. “Even if the weapons fired blanks, the barrel is so close to the head of the ‘actors’ that the gas discharge alone leaves the weapon with such force it would likely cause serious injury or death,” Mr Fredericks said.

The reactions of those executed was consistent with reality, he added. “The victims do not lunge forward . . . [they] fall backward in a very realistic reaction, unlike what is normally depicted in the movies.”

In Mr Fredericks’s opinion “the injury to the head of the second victim and the oozing liquid from that injury cannot be reproduced realistically without editing cuts, camera angle changes and special effects. No [errors] exist anywhere in any of the images that support a technical fabrication of the events depicted,” he said.

The Sri Lankan Government said in a statement in September that the footage was “done with a sophisticated video camera, dubbed to give the gunshot effect and transferred to a mobile phone.”

Mr Fredericks’s research showed that code embedded in the footage appeared to match with software used in Nokia mobile phones.” He said: “The recording is completely consistent with a cell phone video recording and there are no signs of editing or alterations.”

The strong evidence that the footage does show real executions could reinforce international calls for an independent war crimes investigation — something that the Sri Lanka Government has resisted. A Sri Lankan army spokesman requested that a copy of Mr Fredericks’s report be sent to him yesterday, but did not reply when it was.

Mr Fonseka, who resigned from the army last month after being sidelined, is campaigning to unseat President Rajapaksa, the Defence Minister’s brother, at elections next month.

Sri Lanka execution video ‘not fake’
Updated on 15 December 2009
By Channel 4 News

A forensic video specialist says Channel 4 News footage appearing to show the execution of Tamil Tigers was not fabricated, as the Sri Lankan government has claimed.

It was a quick and violent end to a long and violent war; 80,000 dead; maybe 20,000 in what was called the No Fire Zone in the last few bloody weeks.

Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians caught up in the final showdown as artillery shells slammed down; both government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam accused of war crimes.

But journalists and independent investigators were denied access to the combat zone, and even after it was all over to eye-witnesses too.  But reports still filtered out of unspeakable suffering.

Then, in August, this grim video was obtained by and broadcast by Channel 4 News.

The raw footage, a continuous shot one minute eight seconds long, purported to show the casual execution of eight bound, blindfolded, naked Tamil men by Sri Lankan government soldiers.

If this was what was claimed, this video would bolster international demands for an independent war crimes investigation – something the victorious Sri Lankan government has resisted.

The government denounced the controversial video as a fake, but the UN expert on extrajudicial killings wasn’t convinced.

“This video tape seems to have most of the characteristics of a genuine article and that in itself is sufficient to impose an obligation on a government to undertake a sustained and effective impartial investigation to ascertain the truth.” – Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur

The Sri Lankan government conducted four investigations and then announced to a roomful of foreign diplomats that they’d all concluded that the footage was doctored.

But some remained unconvinced by the “impartiality” of these findings, the US State Department among them.

Now, an independent expert in forensic video analysis has examined the footage, at the request of The Times. Grant Fredericks is a former policeman who works with the FBI as an expert witness.

He concluded that the video, consistent with a cell-phone recording, showed “no evidence of digital manipulation, editing or any other special effects.”

The level of subtle detail, he said, could not have been virtually produced, citing the visible discharge of gas – from the barrel of the weapon and bleeding from the injury, which, he said, could not have been reproduced without special effects.

No errors exist anywhere to support a technical fabrication, he said.

“All the events that are purported to have taken place in the field of view of the camera are authentic.

“There’s no signs of editing, there is no signs of any errors in the video. It’s impossible to reproduce virtually in a computer environment.” – Grant Fredericks, Forensics Video Analyst

Professor Rajiva Wijesinha from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Disaster Management responded:

“The technical reasons given by our expert are not even addressed by Mr Fredericks and I think that’s rather sad because I think we have given the full background of our chap, who has also an international reputation and I think he is very good.

“So I’m afraid I don’t find Mr Fredericks very convincing.” – Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, Sri Lankan Ministry of Disaster Management

With a presidential election looming next month, there is growing dissent in the ranks of the leadership.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother and defence minister has now been accused of ordering other such killings at the end of the war by a former army commander.

With their victory receding into the past, the cabal who won the war are now turning on each other and tonight Channel 4 News has learned that the UN’s special rapporteur  will soon announce the findings of another independent report into the executions’ video.

Sri Lanka’s first peace time election in decades will be haunted by the horrors of its war.